Pewter Report's Dory LeBlanc examines five keys for a Buccaneers victory each week prior to the game. Following Tampa Bay's 34-24 victory over the Chargers at Raymond James Stadium, LeBlanc reviews her keys to victory and offers up her grades on each one.
Key 1. Limit Quick Strikes
In the opening drive, Philip Rivers fired a shot to Denario Alexander which the third-year receiver took to the house for an 80 yard score. Plays exactly like this have burned the Bucs all year, and without a lockdown cornerback will continue to happen.
San Diego attacked the Bucs secondary throughout the first quarter with another TD pass, this time a 13-yarder to a wide open Antonio Gates.
By the end of the first 15 minutes, Rivers had completed five of six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. By halftime, the nine-year veteran had amassed 218 yards and three touchdowns after completing 16-of-18 passing.
The Bucs tightened down in the second half, limiting Rivers to 13-of-19 passing for 119 yards and two interceptions. Back in Week 7, the Bucs defense had a similar performance against the Saints, allowing Drew Brees to throw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, but locking him down to less than 100 yards and keeping him from finding the end zone in the second half.
It’s great that head coach Greg Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan are making the proper adjustments at halftime, but they’ve got to figure out how to limit the opposing quarterbacks for the entire 60 minutes.
Grade = C-
Key 2. Keep The Check-Downs In Check
San Diego running backs have caught 73 passes heading into Sunday’s matchup and added eight more Sunday. On average, the Chargers backfield was catching around nine catches per game, so the fact they had one less reception than the average is a good thing.
But the most telling sign that the Bucs succeeded in keeping the running backs in check in the passing game is the fact that San Diego RBs were averaging 70.25 yards per game receiving. Tampa Bay held Ronnie Brown and Ryan Matthews to 28 yards combined and not one of the Chargers’ three TDs were thrown to a back.
Grade = A
Key 3. Wrap Up Rivers
Philip Rivers is considered one of the better QBs in the league as a pocket passer, but fails to show any type of mobility. The Bucs should have had plenty of opportunity to get the former N.C. State quarterback on the ground, but despite Mason Foster’s second quarter sack, failed to really have effective pressure until the final 15 minutes.
With just over a minute into the final 15, Gerald McCoy got great pressure on Rivers and forced the QB to throw his 11th pick of the season as undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson stepped in front of River’s pass and returned the ball 83 yards (fourth longest in Bucs history) for the score.
Although the stats won’t reflect it, the Bucs did a decent job of flushing Rivers out of the pocket. On the drive that followed the pick-six, Rivers was flushed out again and threw to Eddie Royal. E.J. Biggers reached in to break up the pass – but the ball landed in the San Diego wide receiver’s arms and the Chargers were able to keep the drive alive and ultimately kicked a field goal to bring the visitors within seven.
Daniel Te’o-Nesheim brought Rivers down on the next Chargers possession for a loss of 10 yards and on the snap McCoy and partner-in-crime DE Michael Bennett flushed Rivers out again with just over three minutes remaining in the game and the SD QB threw another INT to newly activated LeQuan Lewis.
The Bucs ran a lot of stunts in the first half and after the game McCoy told Pewterreport.com that he told the defensive coaches they needed to let the D-Line “go.” According to the third-year three-tech, once the coaches listened and adjusted the scheme, Tampa Bay was able to get pressure on Rivers.
Grade = C
Key 4. Flex Your Muscle…Hamster
The Chargers are fourth in the league in run defense holding the opposition to 84 yards rushing per game and have done a good job all season not letting any running back have a break out performance. After sensational games in back-to-back weeks, San Diego was able to contain rookie Doug Martin to 68 yards on the ground and 51 receiving yards.
Although his total yards from scrimmage was over 100 yards, it was nowhere near the 200-plus yardage he had been racking up each game the past two weeks.
The Bucs attempted just 22 carries all game (one was Freeman) for 74 yards total.
Grade = B-
Key 5. No Early Holiday Gifts
Ball security has been the focal point of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since head coach Greg Schiano arrived in January. Through nine games, the Bucs have turned the ball over eight times this season – five of them being Freeman interceptions.
In 173 rushing attempts this season, Doug Martin has not fumbled the ball one time and the Buccaneers only fumbles have been from muffed punts by Roscoe Parrish, Jordan Shipley, and Preston Parker, and Freeman’s six fumbles. Not one running back or wide receiver has coughed the ball up.
San Diego has forced 12 fumbles, the fifth most in the NFL and thanks to the Bucs backs all carrying the ball securely, the Chargers go back to the West Coast without forcing any more.
Grade = A+